Jesus Gonzalez Lesorda
delivered at the
International Coalition for Religious Freedom Conference on
"Religious Freedom and the New Millenium"
Washington DC, April 17-19, 1998
The history of religious persecution of the Unification Movement or the Unification Church is very long. It started with the founder, who suffered a lot in his life. Six times he went to prison. He was tortured and suffered incredibly. I don’t want to go into detail about the different persecutions that you are already aware of, in particular here in the United States in the 1970s and ’80s—the deprogramming and all that. There is an interesting book by Carlton Sherwood entitled Inquisition. It is a masterpiece because he conducted thorough research on the background, the misunderstanding, persecution, and bigotry toward Unificationists, the Unification Church, and the worldwide Unification movement.
I will focus on more recent issues. The Schengen treaty was already mentioned, and how it blocks Reverend Moon from entering not only Germany and France but nine other countries in the European Community that are signatories to this treaty. As mentioned earlier, the official reason for not allowing Reverend Moon and his wife to enter these countries is basically the alleged danger to public order.
My understanding is that the Schengen Treaty was originally designed to prevent terrorists and the Mafia from entering the countries of the European Community, and now it is applied to Reverend and Mrs. Moon. This is one of the cases we are trying to resolve.
The same deprogramming activities common in the 1970s and ’80s are currently going on Japan. Before I move to other situations in other countries, we need to understand that Unificationists, and the Unification Movement are actively working in 185 nations, so there are many different situations. I will focus on certain cases, beginning with Japan.
Deprogramming in Japan is going on today. I prefer that a Japanese fellow Unificationist explain the situation. This is Shunsuke Uotani.
Mr. Uotani: I would like to give a brief report about the kidnapping and deprogramming of Japanese Unification Church members. Even now, 200 to 300 members annually are kidnapped, confined, and deprogrammed. It is a very big problem. Though they are basically kidnapped by their parents, behind their parents are Christian ministers and professional deprogrammers and psychologists who are educating the parents on how to kidnap and how to deprogram. This is a book written by a medical doctor who was kidnapped and confined for two years. He finally escaped and returned to the church. The name of the book is Escape from a Kidnapper. At this time, I would like to mention just one case of deprogramming, specifically concerning the administrative agency’s unfair attitude in dealing with this problem. There are many cases in which Japanese administrative agencies, including police and the Ministry of Justice, deal with the incidents relative to religious organizations and their believers’ faith quite unfairly from the viewpoint of religious freedom and fundamental human rights.
From August 22 to November 8, 1997, a 25-year-old female believer was confined by her parents and relatives in an apartment house from which she could not escape, only because of her faith in the Unification Church. She took advantage of an unguarded moment and escaped to the room next door, from which she called the police. The police rushed to the apartment house and heard her explanation of the matter in detail. After bringing her to the police station, they realized she was not a psychiatric patient or incompetent but lived a normal life as a member of society. She explained that she was confined in the apartment house against her will and that there was a terrible infringement on her bodily freedom and religious freedom. She appealed to the police for liberation from her parents and return to the church. However, the police who heard her explanation instead helped her parents move her to another confinement place. They put her in an official police car and drove her to a highway interchange where her parents were waiting for her. At the interchange she was put into her parent’s car and driven for two hours to a place in a mountain village where she was confined and pressed for apostasy for more than a week. Although the female believer explained to the police that her religious freedom was being infringed on and asked for liberation, her request was not accepted. When she asked the policeman, “Where are you going to take me?” He said, “I will take you to a church of my acquaintance.”
Eventually this believer was able to escape and revealed the fact. She protested against this unfair treatment but the police ignored her will and one-sidedly supported the explanation of those who confined her. Through an attorney she requested an apology from the police station and the policeman on the grounds of abuse of authority and infringement of religious freedom, but there was no apology, no explanation. This was an obviously illegal act by the policeman. This kind of case happens frequently in Japan. Police basically regard this as a parent-child problem and refuse to intervene. So we are not protected legally.
Mr. Gonzales: In 1996 there was another incident that made the headlines that occurred in the Philippines. The Unification movement held a Blessing (marriage ceremony) in January 1996.The majority of the participants were Korean and Filipino—a thousand couples. Afterward, there were a lot of articles. The Philippines has laws governing what are called mail-order brides because of abuses that happened in the past. The government tried to put our Blessing in the same category. Fortunately, this case was recently dropped. But there was a lot of suffering and anxiety to the Philippine movement.
Also, in the early nineties in Thailand, several of our members were imprisoned. Dr. Lek, who is attending our conference, was imprisoned. He can give all the details. The charges against him included treason.
Now I will focus on certain situations in Latin America. This is the area I know most intimately. Already there was a long report on the situation in Venezuela, so I won’t review the details. I just want to mention that the problem in Latin America is not so much centered on institutions; it is the governments that are against the Unification Church. If there is one thing I have learned in my 23 years of association with the Unification Church, it is that institutions don’t commit sins, they don’t persecute anybody; it is the people in these institutions that do it. This is why there are these cases. The Venezuelan situation relates to one particular person in the government who used, or misused, his authority to persecute. Maybe we cannot generalize what happened in Venezuela to all the countries in Latin America.
For instance, Uruguay is a very different case. Separation of church and state has been legal policy since the beginning of the century. It is very different from many other countries in Latin America.
In El Salvador last year, about a hundred Japanese volunteers from our movement were going house to house promoting fidelity in marriage and promoting the idea of the Blessing. Actually they were doing it under the auspices of the Family Federation for World Peace, which is non-denominational. There were a lot of negative articles in the media. Because the Japanese volunteers could not read Spanish, they couldn’t counter the media attacks. The situation became worse and worse, and this of course influenced the politicians. Suddenly these volunteers received a letter from the Immigration Department telling them that they should leave the country in groups of five. Why? “Because,” they said, “you are doing religious proselytizing.” They threatened to expel everyone. They probably thought that by sending the notification letter, the members would voluntarily leave the country and not be a problem. Instead of leaving, the next group of five made an appeal to the Constitutional Supreme Court in El Salvador. Of course, this scared the government, because there was absolutely no legal grounds to call for the volunteers’ expulsion. They all had visas, and they were not doing religious activities. And, according to the law, a tourist visa permits religious activities.
There were no grounds for expulsion, so the government changed its tactic and tried to expel them because they were working. Tourists are not permitted to work, but of course, what is the definition of work? If a tourist enters the country and plants a tree, will he be expelled because he did some work? Naturally, work can be defined as some act that requires payment from some organization inside the country. That was also not the case. The situation fortunately was solved through a direct meeting with the Ministry of the Interior that handles immigration affairs. Also, we had the opportunity to discuss the confusion in the arena of public opinion. A similar case happened in Panama.
We are still suffering from these and other cases. This could happen to any other organization. We must be vigilant and take steps to protect our religious freedom.